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What does future hold for Internet TV?

January 16, 2007 12:21 IST

When television viewers in Delhi and Mumbai went in for set top boxes, in order to continue watching their favourite pay channels, Internet Protocol Television players were still fiddling with their networks and discussing content delivery problems.

In short, they missed the bus. Akin to a distant star, IPTV players insist that it is "a reality in the offing." The number of global IPTV subscribers is expected to grow from 4.3 million in 2005 to 36.8 million in 2009, with Europe leading the market, followed by Asia and North America, says a report by US-based Multimedia Research Group.

In the absence of a regulatory framework, IPTV is not covered within CAS or the Telegraph Act and players are groping for a commercial platform.

"Telecom majors like MTNL (Mahanagar Telephone Nigam) and BSNL (Bharat Sanchar Nigam) have the bandwidth to initiate IPTV services and private players like Reliance and Bharti are also piloting IPTV roll outs," says Sujata Dev, managing director and CEO, Time Broadband.

Dev, who calls herself a content aggregator and delivery platform, insists that unless TRAI decides on a standardised tariff plan for IPTV players and allied services, the future of Internet television looks bleak.

Presently, the set top boxes required for IPTV cost between Rs 7,500-9,000 and there is no subsidy that players can fall back on. Lack of content could be another hindrance for the young IPTV industry since only the channel bouquet from Star Television is currently available and players hope to get Sony and Zee bouquets some time soon.

Buoyed by the response that the Aksh-MTNL partnership has garnered in Delhi and Mumbai, Kailash Choudhari, managing director, Aksh Optifibre, is full of optimism and plans to get in "at least a million subscribers in the cities they are present".

For him, "IPTV is all about delivering broadband to a set top box, from where the television services are accessed by television itself and not a personal computer. It's your set top box that acts as a web browser with your television as the monitor."

"IPTV is expected to be the real killer application in the telcos' broadband services portfolio that will increase ARPUs and preserve user stickiness," alleges Dev of Time Broadband.

Expectedly, Indian telcos like MTNL, BSNL, Reliance Infocomm, Bharti are keen to have IPTV services on their portfolio. Bharti Tele-Ventures, with the help of UTStarcom as a technology partner, has been piloting IPTV services in Gurgaon but the company shows no signs of going commercial.

IPTV services are likely to complement rather than replace today's television delivery, reckon IPTV players. What it will do is fragment television viewership even further by giving viewing to multi-television households. An interesting conundrum is the advertising space.

"IPTV will start to break down the traditional 30 second television spot and fragmented viewing where consumers do not have to choose to watch advertising will create challenges for brands and agencies alike," finishes Choudhary.
Priyanka Joshi, in New Delhi